Women of color have historically fought for the right to have children as much as they have fought for access to abortion. They have been policed and marginalized through welfare reform, immigration laws, and racialized myths about their bodies and sexuality. This struggle has often prevented women of color from giving birth under circumstances of their own choosing; it has also made it difficult for them to access social supports—such as child care and paid sick leave—and to raise their children as they see fit. The policies of the Trump administration have merely exacerbated this problem. So far, the administration’s efforts to cut Medicaid by more than $600 billion, to cut welfare programs by more than $270 billion, to cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program by $214 million, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have further jeopardized women’s reproductive autonomy and the ability of their families to thrive.
When women of color decide to parent, they face many obstacles, including lower socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and health disparities. In order to combat some of these obstacles, this column outlines four ways policymakers can help women of color to parent with respect and dignity and to raise their children in healthy environments.
Address maternal health disparities
The health of women prior to pregnancy often dictates the health of their pregnancy and that of their newborns. Compared with white women, women of color face significant health disparities—such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity—which, coupled with higher rates of unintended pregnancies, can contribute to high-risk pregnancies. Worse yet, low-income African American women are more likely than white women to forgo or delay prenatal care, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy. Furthermore, Latina and African American women are nearly three times more likely to delay prenatal care than white women, while Native American women are nearly four times as likely to receive no or later prenatal care.
African American women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than any other race. This is likely due to toxic stress, racism, and socio-economic factors. Research by Amnesty International also indicates that discriminatory and inadequate care play an equally important role in the disproportionate amount of pregnancy-related deaths among African American women.
In order to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, the country must ensure access to quality health care for all, without discrimination, including timely and appropriate care for mothers.
Allow women to determine where and how they give birth
Women of color should be able to determine the circumstances under which they give birth, and they should do so with the proper supports. But too often for women of color—particularly low-income women—doctors assume this role. In addition to being policed by their doctors, many women of color are subjected to anti-abortion restrictions while pregnant. According to a study by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, more than 400 cases exist where post-Roe v. Wade restrictions were used to prosecute or interfere with pregnancies. Low-income women and women of color disproportionately make up these cases.
African American and Latina women are also more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Incarcerated women, in particular, are denied dignity during childbirth; many are forced to give birth while shackled to a bed by their hands and their feet. And, following birth, they are often only allowed 24 hours with their newborns.
Allowing women to decide how they give birth will grant them respect and dignity as parents. While, at times, medical reasons may compel doctors to intervene, women should always maintain some level of control over their childbirth and delivery.
Ensure economic support for LGB parents of color
Same-sex women of color are more likely to raise children than white LGB women. Additionally, LGBT women of color are more likely than non-LGBT people to live in poverty. According to research by the Williams Institute, African American, Latino, and American Indian same-sex couples have lower incomes, lower college completion rates, and higher unemployment than their white and Asian and Pacific Islander counterparts. Specifically, black and Latina female same-sex couples are more than twice as likely to parent than female and male white same-sex couples. And, due to the wage gap, women of color often earn substantially less than their white and male counterparts, which means that their families are more likely to struggle to make ends meet.
Ensure that all children and families are free from violence
As a matter of reproductive justice, it is imperative that people of color not only be allowed to have the children they want in the manner they see fit, but also that those children have the ability to live full lives free from violence. Recent events suggest that the current administration’s rhetoric has played a critical role in normalizing violence against marginalized communities—particularly against women and communities of color. Violence perpetrated by the state manifests itself in various ways and disproportionately harms communities of color. In fact, there have even been instances where federal and state policies have encouraged the harming of families of color. The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has the potential to separate almost 800,000 people from their families through deportation.
Amid the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back health care access and to cut vital health programs, women of color and their families are facing these obstacles. Other challenges influence how women of color parent. They constantly face prejudices such as socio-economic barriers; poor availability, quality, and competency of services; racism, homophobia, and sexism; and state violence. Parenting is more than a biological process but one in which women must have the social, economic, and cultural support in order to thrive and invest in their families. The country’s policies and social supports must value the safety of all families, regardless of their circumstances.
Heidi Williamson is the former senior policy analyst for Women’s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress.